Peggy Ludwick’s professional background is in Microbiology and Public Health. Discovering her father’s 265 eloquent wartime letters home was a revelation, and a gift she felt compelled to share with the world. In 2015, she returned to live in her hometown, Wenatchee, WA, where she continues to pursue a variety of writing projects in between visits to her three adult children, and grandchildren.
I never intended to write a book. I merely interviewed my father about his WWII experiences a few years before he died so the stories would not be lost or forgotten. Then, after his death in 2008 and my mother’s passing in 2013, I spent three years reading through the 265 typed, eloquent letters Dad had written home during the war. They were so remarkable and such a revelation, I decided to excerpt their most compelling passages. Together, with the interviews’ transcript, a book began to take form.
Out of curiosity and motivated to research the specific battles in which my father participated, I gained a better understanding of the details and extreme circumstances of those bloody engagements with the German army. Inserting this historical information into the manuscript provided critical context for the letters and insights into the challenges experienced by the celebrated 34th Infantry Division.
Subsequently, I added a few more personal chapters to flesh out my parents’ profiles as individuals and exploration into the emotional trauma of war. As a daughter, I was also led to consider how this new information about my parents as the young, idealistic adults they once were, has given me a better understanding of not only them, but of myself, as well. This more subjective layer of the book may resonate with a broader range of readers, giving them a reason to care about the main characters driving the narrative, while also inspiring them to reflect on their own family’s complex stories.
This riveting account of a Medical Officer on the front lines of WWII, responsible for the physical and emotional well-being of traumatized and wounded soldiers, is a unique perspective of war. Engaged in some of North Africa and Italy’s bloodiest battles: Kasserine and Fondouk Passes, Hill 609, Monte Pantano, Cassino, and Anzio, Lt. Col./Maj. Arthur L. “Lud” Ludwick Jr, M.D.’s story is one of devotion and heroism. He earned the Purple Heart in Tunisia and the Silver Star for “gallantry-in-action” on Monte Pantano, Italy, both unusual combat commendations for an unarmed Medical Officer.
Ludwick’s keen observations on the landscapes, cultures, and people he encounters are packed into the eloquent love letters written home to his wartime bride. This multifaceted narrative of one man’s resolute journey through the minefields of love and war, is also a daughter’s discovery of the young man she never knew, before he became her father.
Based on a rich archive of interviews, letters, photos, and military documents, this captivating chronicle of history lends new meaning to notions of true leadership, human character, and the irrational nature of war.
A wide-range of resources was used to provide context for my father’s letters and interviews, giving the reader general background knowledge about the North African and Italian campaigns of WWII, including: well researched and scholarly overviews of the Mediterranean Theater; first person testimonials by veterans who participated in the conflicts there; embedded journalists’ reporting; military archives; veterans organizations’ newsletters and publications; U.S. Army’s “After Action Reports” and related websites; live action film footage of the conflicts in North Africa and Italy.
This book follows the 133rd and 168th combat regiments of the U.S. Army’s celebrated 34th Infantry “Red Bull” Division, the first U.S. troops sent to Europe after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, from early training at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana to the U.S. entering WWII on December 7, 1941. The Red Bulls spent ten months “secretly” training in Northern Ireland before being deployed to North Africa in Operation TORCH, and on into Italy. All in all, my father’s two infantry regiments participated in fourteen major engagements with the German Army, each averaging one to three weeks. The 34th Infantry Division holds the U.S. Army record for most days in combat, over 500, in American military history.
The interviews with my father give a more detailed account of the 34th’s orders and outcomes that he could not disclose in his letters home to my mother due to the strict censorship policies of the military. Serving as a companion and lead-in to batches of the chronologically corresponding letters, the interviews showcase my father’s modest and matter-of-fact manner. After his death, while researching the North African and Italian campaigns on my own, I learned that he had vastly underreported the danger and grim circumstances of his service.
To provide the reader with some context and a better understanding of WWII’s Mediterranean Theater operations, I added my own commentary throughout the narrative with historical references and support material. I tried to keep the footnotes and background information to a minimum in the “Letters” sections, so as not to interrupt the flow of my father’s beautifully written accounts.
His letters and interviews reveal a myriad of new details about combat life: his unusual management of soldiers suffering from PTSD; the medical treatment of local villagers, often victims of war’s collateral damage; the crucial role of entertainment used to boost his men’s morale and build unity; frustration with the Army’s “way-of-doing-things;” the challenges of living conditions on the Front.
Underscoring the war narrative is the unfolding of a love story between a young wife of only two months and her courageous Medical Officer husband, serving overseas in a horrific war. Desperate to keep the flame of his new marriage burning over their 2 ½ years of separation, my father was not only fighting for his life and country, but perhaps for his marriage, as well. This more personal glimpse of war’s trauma and its potential lingering effects within family relationships, still reverberates amongst our military personnel serving abroad today.
A daughter’s discovery of her father as a passionate, courageous, and engaging young man, before becoming her father, is the final layer to this multi-faceted story. The letters transformed the image of the man she thought she knew, reshaping his legacy in her life. Is it possible to rewrite one’s family history? Perhaps.
In addition to this unique perspective of war, the underlying love story that develops over a newly married couple’s 28-month separation— and a daughter’s discovery of her parents as the young adults she never knew, add new insights into and understanding of history’s most enduring themes of love and war. This multi-layered/multi-generational compendium of our country’s last “good war,” has not yet been seen in one book.